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MADONNA IS FORBES' TOP CASH QUEEN: Madonna is the richest woman in music. The 49-year-old entertainer leads Forbes.com's list of the top 20

"Cash Queens of Music," earning $72 million from June 2006 to June 2007. The pop star's "Confessions" world tour pulled in $260 million, Forbes said. She also made money from album sales, her fashion line with H&M and a deal with NBC to broadcast her concert performance at London's Wembley Stadium. Forbes.com said it compiled the list by examining concert grosses, merchandising revenue, album sales and other revenue from clothing lines, fragrance deals and endorsements. Barbra Streisand is No. 2 with $60 million, thanks to her comeback tour of North America and Europe. Celine Dion ranks third with $45 million, largely from her successful "A New Day" show in Las Vegas, which she wrapped up in December after a five-year run at Caesar's Palace. Shakira is fourth with $38 million, followed by Beyoncé ($27 million), Gwen Stefani ($26 million), Christina Aguilera ($20 million), Faith Hill ($19 million), the Dixie Chicks ($18 million) and Mariah Carey ($13 million). Hilary Duff, Avril Lavigne and Martina McBride each banked $12 million. Britney Spears ranked 14th on the list, earning $8 million from music royalties and sales of her fragrances with Elizabeth Arden. Spears is followed by Carrie Underwood and Nelly Furtado ($7 million each); Fergie, Jennifer Lopez and Sheryl Crow ($6 million each); and Norah Jones ($5.5 million).

DELL TO CLOSE ITS KIOSKS INSIDE MALLS: Dell Inc., which has been pushing its computers into more retail stores, said Wednesday that it will close its 140 shopping mall kiosks. Dell now sells computers and other devices in more than 10,000 stores around the world, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Best Buy Co. The kiosks, where customers could place orders for delivery, may be losing some of their novelty. Dell began opening the kiosks in 2002 to boost sales of notebook computers, which didn't fit its practice of selling directly to customers. Dell has cut more deals with retailers as PC sales have slowed, and the company lost its sales lead to Hewlett-Packard Co.

CHARGES FILED AGAINST WINE SELLERS: Felony criminal complaints have been filed against three men on suspicion of embezzling nearly $200,000 worth of high-end Bordeaux-style wines produced by Jackson Family Wines. Authorities say Jordan Crass of Santa Rosa was the ringleader who schemed to sell $150-a-bottle wines for the bargain price of $60. An internal investigation by the winery revealed that unreleased 2004 vintage wines were being made available on the Internet at prices substantially below retail prices. An affidavit claims that Crass created false "lost" wine shipments so the wine could be sent out without being tied to an order by a customer.

AG DEPARTMENT TO PROBE CRUELTY CLAIM:

The Agriculture Department said Wednesday that it would investigate whether sick dairy cows were mistreated at a California slaughterhouse in violation of state and federal laws designed to ensure food safety and prevent animal cruelty. Newly installed Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said the department was taking the allegations seriously after video footage showed workers at the Hallmark Meat Packing Co. repeatedly kicking cows and ramming them with the blades of a forklift as the animals squealed in pain. Schafer said "appropriate actions will be taken" if violations are found in the facility, but he said there was no evidence that the nation's beef supply was at risk. "There is no immediate health risk that we are aware of," he said. Hallmark, based in Chino, supplies the Westland Meat Co., which processes the carcasses. The facility is a major supplier to a USDA program that distributes beef to needy families, the elderly and to schools through the National School Lunch Program. Westland was named a USDA "supplier of the year" for 2004-05 and has delivered beef to schools in 36 states.

BEE NEWS SERVICES

Figuratively Speaking

5: Because of convenience and a clearer understanding of usage terms, expected percentage increase in sales of gift cards by 2012, according to a report from market-research publisher Packaged Facts

$14 billion: Estimated amount of money this represents

35: Estimated percentage of consumers purchasing gift cards in the past 12 months who anticipate spending more on gift cards during the next 12 months

JOHN MacINTYRE,

UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

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